For the last few weeks, I’ve been writing about various kinds of typical workplace dramas and their instigators:
- The eager beaver type who’s “Overwhelmed and Overreacting;”
- The intelligent, intense, easily triggered “Conspiracy Theorist;”
- The “Perfect Victim,” who’s always right and always suffering; and
- The “Messenger on a Mission,” who gains in self-importance by speaking for others.
Of course there are other types, like the Firebomber who storms the barricades with the clear goal of blowing people up when she feels she’s been neglected for too long. Or the Teflon type, who goes around accusing others of capital crimes — while the organizational blood that he sheds never seems to stain him.
Meet the Drama Queen
In my own career, I’ve usually played the anti-drama queen. One of my earliest management experiences involved subbing for a highly dramatic, over-the-top screamer of a department manager. Her staff was comprised entirely of screamers too — or at least they had become screamers by the time I became responsible for them.
When everything was going well, I could tolerate the staff’s intensity level. The group learned quickly, however, that in contrast to their experience with their regular boss, the time to be careful and pay close attention was when I got very quiet, because it meant that something was actually wrong.
When Nervousness is Calming
I had the reverse experience later on in my career when I reported to an executive who had a bit of a nervous streak. Initially I assumed that she would be pleased for me to handle problems as they occurred, so I only let her know afterward about the outcome. But to my surprise, it turned out that when I was matter-of-fact and played down the level of disruption or threat, she would assume that I hadn’t taken things seriously enough — and would typically go off on a tear.
From then on, whenever we experienced day-to-day snags and glitches, instead of simply resolving them, I would purposefully report everything in great detail, with furrowed brow and suitably worried delivery. Then she would spring fearlessly into action, instructing me on how to handle things, meanwhile keeping her cool completely.
Afterwards, she would be very satisfied that we had successfully dodged yet another bullet! I strongly disliked having to experience a kind of excessive emotionalism one way or another, but I certainly preferred it to be something I chose and controlled, rather than something I had to live through as the result of my boss’s drama.
Taking Things Down a Notch
Not everyone reacts to stress by grandstanding, fussing, or triggering others. But if we suspect that things are going off the rails or coming apart, we’re all subject to anxiety, worry, and the fear that something — or everything — will go wrong.
Whenever you feel a drama coming on, there are two primary approaches you can take to lower the level of histrionics and mess — and that’s true whether the drama is yours or you’re an audience member who doesn’t want to be hit by the objects that are flying across the stage.
After a little calm reflection, you’ll see opportunities to (1) reduce the level of anxiety and/or (2) increase the level of clarity and purpose to create progress and impact and guide the players in a more desirable direction. Check back on the four dramas above as well as the opening blog of this series, Closing the Curtain on Employee Drama, for ideas.
We can all behave more calmly and be more productive when we’re less afraid, when we see that we can make something good happen, and when we feel that we are effective and competent. Using these tactics in different combinations will work with numerous varieties of dramatic actors in the workplace.
Onward and upward,